Unlike the more puritanical (literally) colonies farther up the American coast, Charleston was from the beginning an arts-friendly settlement. The first theatrical production in the western hemisphere happened in Charleston in January 1735, when a nomadic troupe rented a space at Church and Broad Streets to perform Thomas Otway’s The Orphan.
The play’s success led to the building of the Dock Street Theatre on now-Queen Street, which on February 12, 1736, held its first production, The Recruiting Officer, a popular play for actresses of the time because it calls for some female characters to wear tight-fitting British army uniforms. Live theater became a staple of Charleston social life, with notable thespians including both Edwin and Junius Booth (brothers of Lincoln’s assassin John Wilkes) and Edgar Allan Poe’s mother Eliza performing here.
Several high-quality troupes continue to keep that proud old tradition alive, chief among them being Charleston Stage (843/577-7183, www.charlestonstage.com), the resident company of the Dock Street Theatre. In addition to its well-received regular season of classics and modern staples, Charleston Stage has debuted more than 30 original scripts over the years, most recently Gershwin at Folly, recounting the composer’s time at Folly Beach working on Porgy and Bess.
The city’s most unusual players are The Have Nots! (843/853-6687, www.thehavenots.com), with a total ensemble of 35 comedians who typically perform their brand of edgy improv every Friday night at Theatre 99 (280 Meeting St.).
The players of PURE Theatre (843/723-4444, www.puretheatre.org) perform at the Circular Congregation Church’s Lance Hall (150 Meeting St.). Their shows emphasize compelling, mature drama, beautifully performed. This is where to catch less-glitzy, more-gritty productions like Rabbit Hole, American Buffalo, and Cold Tectonics, a hit at Piccolo Spoleto.
The Footlight Players (843/722-4487, www.footlightplayers.net) are the oldest continuously active company in town (since 1931). This community-based, amateur company performs a mix of crowd-pleasers (The Full Monty) and cutting-edge drama (This War is Live) at their space at 20 Queen Street.
© Jim Morekis from Moon Charleston & Savannah, 4th Edition